The New York Mets (25-24) conclude their road trip with a four-game series in Atlanta against the Braves (30-21) after dropping three of four to the Milwaukee Brewers, the team with the best record in the National League. The Braves, another first-place team, own a very slim lead in the National League East after dropping two of three to the Boston Red Sox.
After shutting out the Brewers 5-0 on Thursday night behind a stellar start by Steven Matz and a career night from Brandon Nimmo, during which he reached base five times, the Mets proceeded to drop three in a row thanks in large part to bullpen meltdowns. Friday night saw the Mets tied 3-3 going into the tenth inning as Robert Gsellman was taken out after 1.2 innings for Jerry Blevins to face Christian Yelich with a runner on first. Blevins failed to retire the lefty-hitting Yelich and was replaced with AJ Ramos, who proceeded to walk Hernan Perez on four pitches and Travis Shaw on five to force in the game-winning run for the Brew Crew.
Jason Vargas took the hill on Saturday and reverted back to his first-inning struggles, coughing up three after the Mets scored three in the top of the first. Matters would get worse after Vargas was lifted in the fourth, as Jacob Rhame, Ramos, Chris Flexen (who took a majority of the lumps) and Blevins would combine to give up 12 runs on 13 hits for the last five innings in a brutal 17-6 beatdown. Finally, a shaky combination of Gsellman, Blevins, and Paul Sewald would blow a 6-4 lead in the seventh inning on Sunday’s matinee in Milwaukee as the Mets fall 8-7. To add injury to insult, the Mets would also lose Wilmer Flores to lower back soreness.
One of the few positives from the Milwaukee series is the offense, which has improved since their anemic performance against the Marlins. With Nimmo leading the charge at the top of the lineup, Michael Conforto starting the hit the ball with more authority, and the recent additions of Devin Mesoraco and Jose Bautista adding more right-handed power to a lineup that desperately needs it, the offense has definitely begun to wake up. Bautista may also be looking at this Braves series with revenge on his mind after getting cut by Atlanta, where he had a subpar two-week stint playing third base. And with the return of the rehabbing duo of Todd Frazier and Yoenis Cespedes on the horizon, the Mets’ offense could be firing on all cylinders again very soon.
One of the many questions that face the Mets is how they will address the faltering back end of the rotation. Despite stronger performances from Steven Matz and Zack Wheeler, Jason Vargas remains a sore spot with a 10.62 ERA, 2.16 WHIP, and a 6.50 FIP in 20.1 innings. With two starters-turned-relievers in Seth Lugo and Gsellman, who have found great successes in 2018, and a starter who can’t seem to get out of his own way in Vargas, the Mets need to come to a decision of who their fifth starter will be going forward. If not, they risk throwing away more games, especially against tough divisional opponents such as the Braves.
Atlanta has cooled off somewhat since their initial surge to the top of the division, going 5-5 in their last ten games. Second-year second baseman Ozzie Albies has surprised many by leading the Braves in home runs with 14. Nick Markakis has hit far better than his career norms with a .347/.413/.523 line, and franchise mainstay Freddie Freeman a comparable .326/.425/.542 line. Upstart outfield prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. may miss some, if not all, of this series after exiting Sunday’s win in Boston with knee and lower back pain after tripping and falling awkwardly after beating out a throw at first base.
The Braves bullpen has had some unexpected and unproven pitchers come through in tight spots for them. Shane Carle and Dan Winkler have emerged as primary setup men for closer Arodys Vizcaino. Carle, in his first full season in the majors, has a 1.57 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 2.79 FIP, and 20 strikeouts in 28.2 innings. Winkler, a 2014 Rule 5 draft pick, has also boasted impressive numbers, posting a 0.84 ERA, 0.70 WHIP, 1.27 FIP, and 30 strikeouts in 21.1 innings.
Monday, May 28 Game 1: Jacob deGrom vs. Max Fried, 1:10 p.m. on SNY
deGrom (2018): 58.1 IP, 77 K, 16 BB, 2 HR, 1.54 ERA, 1.88 FIP, 0.99 WHIP
deGrom has been pitching like he’s on another plane of existence, giving up just one run in his last 33 innings. However, the Mets have scored a grand total of six runs in games he has started in the month of May and have a 5-5 overall record in all of his starts this season. His start against Miami last Wednesday has been the definition of his season so far: seven shutout innings with eight strikeouts and four hits allowed for a no-decision in a 2-1 loss.
Fried (2018): 6 IP, 7 K, 3 BB, 3 HR, 6.00 ERA, 8.77 FIP, 1.33 WHIP
The 24-year-old Fried gets the call from Triple-A Gwinnett as the 26th man for the doubleheader and makes his first start of 2018. The Mets have seen Fried already this season, as he made a relief appearance in the ninth during an 11-0 loss to Atlanta on May 3 that saw Matt Harvey pitch his last game in a Mets uniform.
Monday, May 28 Game 2: TBD vs. Brandon McCarthy, 7:10 p.m. on SNY
McCarthy (2018): 52 IP, 43 K, 19 BB, 7 HR, 4.67 ERA, 4.29 FIP, 1.58 WHIP
The journeyman McCarthy, much like Steven Matz, has not pitched past the sixth inning this year. McCarthy does come off back-to-back solid starts against the Cubs and Phillies, surrendering one run and walking two in each start while striking out a season-high eight batters versus the Cubs.
Tuesday, May 29: Steven Matz vs. TBD, 7:35 p.m. on SNY
Matz (2018): 42.2 IP, 39 K, 19 BB, 9 HR, 3.80 ERA, 5.63 FIP, 1.29 WHIP
Matz’s start last Thursday was his best so far this year, throwing six scoreless innings on four hits and three strikeouts for a win in Milwaukee. Although he has yet to pitch into the seventh inning, Matz does appear to be finally hitting a stride that the Mets desperately need him to be in.
Wednesday, May 30: Noah Syndergaard vs Julio Teheran, 7:35 p.m. on SNY
Syndergaard (2018): 64.2 IP, 76 K, 13 BB, 5 HR, 3.60 ERA, 2.55 FIP, 1.17 WHIP
Syndergaard had a pretty ho-hum start for his standards against the Brewers Friday night, going six innings with three runs allowed on six hits and striking out eight in an extra-inning 4-3 loss. Syndergaard was in line for the loss if not for a Jose Bautista game-tying single in the top of the ninth.
Teheran (2018): 60 IP, 51 K, 27 BB, 11 HR, 1.75 ERA, 5.29 FIP, 1.23 WHIP
In two starts against the Mets in 2018, Teheran has pitched 14 scoreless innings while allowing just six hits and three walks. Teheran’s main issue the last few years has been giving up the long ball. With 31 allowed last season and 11 already in 2018, the key to beating Teheran has been going deep early in the game, especially in the homer-friendly SunTrust Park.
Prediction: Mets split with the Braves.
How will the Mets fare against the Braves in Atlanta?
This poll is closed
Mets gain major ground in the NL East, sweep the Braves.
Take three of four, win series.
No ground gained or lost in a split.
Fall below .500, lose three of four.
Get swept, season hits a new low.